Oakland's Wayfinding Mosaics Suggest Direction With Beauty

As I continue thinking and writing about wayfinding, and how a more comprehensive system could serve to benefit Goshen, the questions I keep coming back to include the following: How is our city visually distinct? Beyond the obvious landmarks, how do we distinguish ourselves in ways that highlight our uniqueness? And how can we can we emphasize these characteristics yet avoid cluttering up our communal spaces with more stuff? Moreover, figuring out how to bring wayfinding and public art/design elements together in a complementary way is not necessarily an easy feat to accomplish. The two elements are certainly not in opposition to one another; both can beautify and improve the safety of public spaces. However, each ultimately serves a different purpose. Whereas an art installation may not have an intended aim other than existing as a form of creative expression, wayfinding is meant to help orient and provide direction.

In California, Oakland’s Dimond wayfinding mosaics, a beautiful mix of artistic aesthetic and practical directional information produced by the artist Gina Dominguez, seem to strike just the right balance. Embedded in the sidewalk, the pieces are integrated into the environment without overwhelming viewers with visual information.

The designs also draw on imagery and symbolism that relate to the area: “Each sidewalk-embedded marker points to four different destinations within the neighborhood and the outlying areas of Oakland. The mosaics are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. They each have a separate design all celebrating something special about the district: the Native American Collection at the Dimond Library; the Redwoods; the native flora of Dimond Canyon, Sausal Creek and the Leimert Bridge that spans Dimond Canyon.”

One need not be an artist to appreciate these works of art or the way in which they contribute to the cultural richness of the Dimond District. The series of mosaics has the added benefit of creating a pronounced sense of place for every single person, whether they live in the area or are simply passing through.

Though the Goshen community is generally a strong proponent of the arts, we seem to struggle a bit when it comes to demonstrating our support through visual art and design. Perhaps it’s more of a reticence than a struggle. Regardless, there is a great deal we can learn by looking at what other communities are doing—not so that we can copy and paste (that is, take something that is working in once place and transplant it into our city).

Rather, observing the interesting projects that are taking place in other cities might help move us a step beyond our collective comfort zone and consider how we might translate our appreciation for everything Goshen has to offer into a visual statement that communicates something special to visitors and lifelong residents alike.